No guts, no glory

2012-04-15 15:49

Cape Town – One of the most influential players in the United States’ Silicon Valley and in companies like YouTube, PayPal and Google is a South African.

Technology entrepreneur Roelof Botha was in the country last week to receive an honorary PhD from Stellenbosch University.

Naspers chief executive Koos Bekker calls Botha one of the world’s most important seekers of promising technology projects.

Botha is a partner at Sequoia Capital – the most important venture capital company in California’s Silicon Valley.

About 20% of the market capitalisation on the Nasdaq stock market in New York represents companies in which Sequoia has invested. These include huge firms like Apple, Cisco, Yahoo and Oracle.

Botha selects new technology companies in which to invest and his investments have led to the rise of companies like YouTube and LinkedIn.

Enterprises in which Sequoia has recently invested include two South African companies, Nimbula and Clickatell.

Botha is the son of the economist Dr Roelof Botha, a former winner of the Sake24 Economist of the Year competition, and the grandson of former minister Pik Botha. The musician Piet Botha is his uncle.

Together with Elon Musk, also a South African, he founded the PayPal electronic payment service.

Botha considers the most exciting new technology in which to invest mobile technology (such as smartphones and tablets), cloud computing services and bioinformatics (such as investigating the human genome).

In his speech at the graduation ceremony he advised South Africa companies and investors to take more risks when investing in entrepreneurs.

In Silicon Valley, he said, failure is part of the culture. People who fail often go on to establish successful companies later.

Of the companies in which Sequoia invests, 35% to 40% fail. People in other countries are overly worried about losing money. If you fail, you lose your money once but if you succeed, you can eventually increase your investment 50-fold, he said.

He believes so strongly in the value of failure that he suggests that South Africa alter its laws about bankruptcy to make it easier for people to start new projects.

There has never been a better time to start a technology company, he believes.

Thanks to services like Apple’s App Store, open-source software and free or inexpensive programming packages, things are easier than ever before for today’s technology entrepreneurs.

“And thanks to the growth of the internet your audience is far, far bigger than it was only 15 years ago.”

His advice to entrepreneurs? “Think of yourself as the central point of a network.

"Who are the people you are going to ask to work with you, or serve on your board? Are there local research institutions that could invest in you, or perhaps have a good idea?”

There is little to prevent South Africa from establishing its own Silicon Valley. The talent is here. The knowledge is here, says Botha.

 - Sake24

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  • CharlesDumbwin - 2012-04-15 16:02

    SA financing has no b@lls and they don't know what venture capital is all about.

  • Citroes - 2012-04-15 16:40

    Well, lets see you put your money where your mouth is Roelof. Invest in our Cape Silicon venture and don't worry about losses.

  • tobydt - 2012-04-15 17:02

    Elon Musk, another awesome South African. One of the founders of Paypal, Tesla motors and now director of SpaceX.

      Press - 2012-04-16 04:17

      . . . thats the "owner" and "Chief Designer" of SpaceX - and the guy who has singlehandedly uprooted the USA's cosy old-boys space industry network Also the most likely individual to get the world to Mars.

  • JaredVN - 2012-04-15 17:29

    South Africa would be a terrible place for Botha or Elon Musk to start their new ventures. Although there is talent locally, the entrepreneurs would not be able to hire the best. Instead, due to the RACIST ANC regime, they would be forced to hire mediocre or substandard candidates who happen to have enough melanin. And no sane entrepreneur would not want the best for their startups. Result: No SA Silicon Valley.

      justin.pretorius - 2012-04-16 13:35

      I would rather invest in other parts of Africa as the cost versus benefit of doing business in SA is too high. Have a look at Tunisia and other countries which nurture business instead of screwing it to death and blaming apartheid when things don't work

  • rrakoma - 2012-04-15 20:27

    personally I am a big fan of Elon Musk, Its sad that ppl like JM dont see past agriculture and minning, I mean we all know that Musk has a contract with NASA for Space X, and as we speak they are heading up a project to make space travel more affordable for the ordinary man. Its time for our leaders to encourage our people to think outside the box, have some imagination, encourage invention and risk-taking as solutions to poverty rather than promoting the conventional.

  • justin.pretorius - 2012-04-16 13:36

    That is why most left for overseas - SA has no guts nor any tolerance for risks which is a truly devastating loss to the economy as a whole. The government is not interested in high tech or intellectual intensive programs as they cannot understand the true impact of these things. Instead everything is invested in "easy" money like mining and resources where they can get kickbacks. SA is going to lose heavily to East Africa and Nigeria as they at least know how to build a future not just based upon raw resources and unskilled labour.

  • gailcarolynhayes - 2012-04-16 14:23

    I think we should stop being so negative about Africa as a whole and a minority in particular. The great tycoons of America were not necessarily the brightest scholars academically, what they had in abundance was curiosity and a determined attitude and the desire to succeed even if they died trying. There are opportunities here - my own son proved that because of his attitude. Your attitude determines your altitude and the sky is your limit when you believe it is. Boundless energy, selfbelief and an ability to work with people and tap into whacky ideas of others or simply work hard at helping someone else make something work will take you where you are aiming for. Personally space travel isn't for me but I'm sure there are others out there who want to visit other planets. If your child is not academically a star do not be discouraged - he/she sees the world differently and believes in himself and his passion and he can be an achiever and an innovator. Never heard of either of these two guys but they did not see the pale male syndrome as a downer but as a sign that they were out of step with the society they had been born into. Being Pik Botha's grandson could have been more of a hindrance than a help here and abroad but he chose his luck and made it work. He didn't see obstacles as defeat but as challenges to be overcome and see where he is now. He chose to focus on what lay before him not behind him. SA can be great if people believe they are winners not victims.

      john.opperman.9210 - 2012-08-31 14:56

      We're not saying SA or Africa doesn't have ability, skill, perseverance or brainpower. We're saying that these people need guidance and an environment to grow in and that it is impossible in SA because the under average IQ possessor is controlling the ship not the captain. These people succeeded BECAUSE they left SA not because of SA.

  • Jackie - 2012-04-17 05:16

    silicon valley, ha ha ha, its more like silicon gulley, the stock market game operates with the ethics of las vegas. wonder what the starvation rate for south africa is ? ha ha ha

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